Having recently debated exactly what defines a ticketing system – and these days one that needs to drive marketing, CRM and fund-raising for many organisations – the next question was about what constitutes “fitness-for-purpose” in terms of meeting the needs of arts and entertainment organisations?  One venue manager, wanting to change from a long established but also long-time legacy solution, was surprised to find how many systems could not match what their “old” system had done for years, especially what Andrew often calls the “bells and whistles”.

Fitness-forPurpose

Managing tender processes in multiple countries to procure ticketing solutions, the names of major international suppliers recur fairly often.  Of course there are some decidedly European focused and some North American, and some from ‘down under’.  But what do we get in terms of localisation to meet the needs of individual countries?

Some say it starts at the level of languages.  Some systems to our surprise have the language used in field names hard-coded, whereas others have a table where multi-lingual field names can be added.  The ones where each operator can choose the language for their terminal are preferred by those in bilingual countries.  There are those, including me, that argue there is psychological disruption if we expect an operator to talk in one language while reading another.

But the biggest challenge comes on customer-facing web pages.  We see the repeated problem that field names on web forms are not carrying the local language but are using the system core language.  That can mean a system running in English but in Sweden for example, puts up English terms on a web page otherwise in Swedish.  More difficult, for those systems with customers speaking more than one language, when no matter what the browser language the customer has chosen, the field names appear in a different one.  The “fixes” we have seen to these difficulties are sticking plaster patches and not solutions: editing the registry seems high risk and won’t survive upgrades without causing pain; creating single multi-lingual field names strains the length of fields when presented on-line, especially in forms, and is not user-friendly.  Just how far do we need to go to make systems “international”?  What do we expect in localisation and if necessary, customisation?

Localisation

I have recently been surprised to see responses to our Functionality Builder which indicate that some suppliers could not provide integrated ‘chip and pin’.  Why?  Well of course in their home country this is not needed so they expect venues to use a Work-Around to cope.  Is this reasonable?  Another supplier says VAT – an EU-wide requirement which must be accommodated inside the price and extracted separately – is also a Work-Around.  Most European countries have multiple rates of VAT, often different rates for tickets than merchandise, so systems need to accommodate more than one VAT rate, but quite a few don’t.  Another says it cannot do US Sales Tax – the opposite of VAT and outside the price.  How is this ‘fit-for-purpose’?

Another says it cannot do US Sales Tax….  How is this ‘fit-for-purpose’?

I remember from my days at Tickets.com, working with Vicki Allpress-Hill on researching the payment methods and banking practices for each European country.  The one common factor was that they were not the same.  Only in Germany could you have your payment charged to your mobile phone provider account if you wished; the Benelux countries had a variety of Giro payment mechanisms – based on authorising payment from the customer’s bank account – but similar looking solutions in Scandinavia turned out to be different in detail.  Payment gateway providers would all say they could accommodate different country needs, but in fact failed to understand the nuances to ensure connectivity, reliability, and successful transactions.  Let us add Direct Debits as a payment method say venues.  Who knew this term describes a quite different method in Canada from the one in the UK?

Customisation

Well I can tell you that venues in these different countries expect their potential suppliers to meet their needs with full local conformity.  Some suppliers talk about using “customisations” to meet those needs.  Now I understand that in these days of sophisticated report writers and business intelligence analytical tools, that systems can be set up to deliver reports based on complex/complicated routines.  Not sure how the UK’s HMRC would accept these for VAT, when they used to check on what basis the rounding had been calculated in separating the tax from the price!  But customisations are intended to be venue specific, rather than country-wide.  And many customisations are venue (and version) specific and don’t survive upgrades unscathed.

many customisations are venue (and version) specific and don’t survive upgrades unscathed.

You have to acknowledge that those single iteration web-based systems have an advantage if everything they do goes into the core product and there is only one version in use, though I imagine meeting every venue’s needs in separate countries strains the ingenuity to keep one configurable solution.

Version Control

Distressingly for those systems where there are local servers or externally hosted separate solutions, there is an increasing issue of ‘version control‘ and ensuring most users are on the same (and current version).  We find too often venues criticising their system when if they were running the latest version their complaint would be invalid, with issues fixed and huge amounts of functionality added.  But the common refrain is cost, fear of disruption, bad past experiences, and insufficient attention to their specific needs, whether in terms of hand-holding through the upgrade process or understanding all the localisations and customisations involved.  And of course, many venues do decide to change their system because of not being up-to-date and feeling neglected by their supplier.

many venues do decide to change their system because of not being up-to-date and feeling neglected by their supplier.

Cost is an interesting issue for upgrades.  Many suppliers assure their users the upgrades are free – and get cross with those Cloud-based suppliers who guarantee there are no costs for upgrading and criticise the alternative model – but the training and professional services, and sometimes even data migration requirements, can soon add up to significant sums beyond the reach for hard-pressed arts organisations, with grants being cut.  And it can seem a cost too far to be charged for testing the localisations and/or customisations, and to then update them.

There is not an easy answer to these challenges, but if there is a shift in the balance in the relationship with suppliers/vendors, it is that venues want their needs more clearly met, with no hidden costs.  And do we need to re-define what it means to be an international supplier?